Guideline 14 of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 1.0) requires that documents are clear and simple. Having a good writing style will ensure your content will be clearly understood, and ensure you keep your readers' attention.
Author: Gez Lemon
I've been investigating writing styles. Being punctilious about writing style is not about pedantry; it is about being able to communicate effectively with your intended audience. The use of correct grammar without spelling mistakes makes it easier for your readers to digest and correct punctuation helps steer the reader through the text, clarifying how you intend the text to be interpreted. And of course, it ensures your content is accessible to the widest possible audience. We've probably all seen examples of where a misplaced comma or apostrophe completely changes the meaning of the text; a pretty tall lady is quite different in meaning to a pretty, tall lady.
By far the best resource I've found online is the Guardian's Style Guide (no longer available online). It's made me realise just how bad my grammar is, but it's great to have an online reference to refer to when you're unsure of a particular issue. Under abbreviations, pretty much right at the start of the style guide, I discovered that one of my most serious crimes is over-using contractions.
The rash of contractions such as aren't, can't, couldn't, hasn't, don't, I'm, it's, there's and what's has reached epidemic proportions (even the horrific "there've" has appeared in the paper). While they might make a piece more colloquial or easier to read, they can be an irritant and a distraction, and make a serious article sound frivolous.
I'll make a better effort to restrict the number of contractions I use in the future.
If you're after something available offline, Lynne Truss's comical Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation is an excellent book. It may not affect your grammar (I've read it, and I'm sure Lynne would be mortified with my use of the English language), but it's entertaining non-the-less. The title of the book is based on a joke about bad punctuation.
A panda strolls into a cafe and orders a sandwich. When the food arrives, the panda eats the sandwich, pulls out a gun and fires a shot into the ceiling, then walks out. Bemused by the behaviour of the panda, the waiter looks on the Internet where he finds the answer in a badly punctuated wildlife website:
Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.